I used to have a lot of arguments with friends who couldn’t understand how I read books without any pictures in them. I would try to convince them, “If it’s a good book, you don’t need pictures!”
Of course you can only understand this when you have experienced it. I’m 14 and I still have classmates who ask the same question.
I have always had a pretty good mental image of characters, no matter which book I’m reading. Even if there isn’t a description given, even if it’s an awful book. My brain would assess the character’s personality and manage to form some sort of picture of them.
I remember devouring Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five books when we first bought them on a winter morning from the Sunday bazaar in Daryaganj. I was in Class 2 at that time. Among the Famous Five characters, I always imagined Julian as this tall, sharp-featured boy, with a soft smile on his face and a kind voice. Dick as the slightly shorter, extremely curly-haired boy, George as a girl who was always scowling, even when she was laughing, and finally, Anne as a high-pitched little girl, who was always skipping, never walking.
Authors are real too
I was introduced to Ruskin Bond when I was in Class 5 and my school took a group of students to meet him in another school. That was when I read At School With Ruskin Bond, just to get an idea of what sort of person we were going to meet. He was exactly what I had thought he would look like. From all the jokes in his book, the sort of friends he had described, I had imagined a man with small, crinkly eyes and a laughing face.
Ruskin Bond was the first author I had met, and it was a strange experience for me. He talked to us about school, about words, about silly things he had done in boarding school. It was easy to like him. I think it was the first time I had ever thought of authors as real humans.
When I read about him writing stories about his high school teachers and then getting detention after being caught, or when his friends went and brought back a baby they found at the foot of the tree, I hadn’t actually thought of a real life person doing all that. After meeting him, it became real.
Now it was easy for me to imagine – to see myself with him, stopping on the way back from school to get jalebis or sitting in class and thinking up wild ideas and adventures we could be having instead.
A magical place
When puberty arrived books became my refuge. I discovered JK Rowling and made it a habit to bury my head in the universe of Harry Potter whenever things got too much.
Whenever nothing in the world makes sense, I can still disappear into the wizarding world where I now know what every character is going to say at what moment. It has been my home in all the topsy-turvy moments of my life.
It has always blown my mind how writers manage to create completely new worlds, dropping hints and clues all over the place – clues that you don’t even know you’ve picked up until the author wants you to know. Imagine all these characters and dialogues coming from the same mind – the snooty boys, the sophisticated girls and all those snarky comments. The romance, the action, the anger, the friendship, the hope and the war, all imagined by the same person.
In a time that I needed it the most, books have shown me that you can’t label people. I don’t love my favourite books because they have beautiful and handsome characters that I know will end up together or because there are really awesome fighting or romance scenes in them.
I love them because of the flaws the characters have. They make mistakes. The world pulls them down. And they get up again. I love the humanness of it all. Be it witches, wizards, warlocks, shadow hunters, werewolves, demigods, cyclops and even gods.
They yell at the ones they love the most, trust the wrong people, choose the bumpy path, and lose the way.
Let them mess up
In the Harry Potter series, Harry takes out his anger at Ron and Hermione when things get too complicated, and then takes almost too long to apologise. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron abandons Harry and Hermione, just when they needed to stick together the most. In The Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Clary, Jace, Isabelle and Alec make the fatal mistake of trusting Hodge, who eventually betrays them. Luke Castellan from the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan seeks revenge on his father and almost ends up destroying everyone who has ever cared for him.
Their vulnerabilities and mistakes are what make me love even the most arrogant and selfish character. It makes them so much more relatable.
They are insecure about how they look. They get nervous and always end up saying the wrong thing to their crush. They don’t know what to wear to a party. They always make stupid jokes at exactly the wrong moments. Their thoughts don’t match the situation. They don’t know when to take things seriously.
And they mess up so much. All the time. Yet along the the way, they manage to crack a couple of good jokes as well.
In The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan, Leo Valdez’s idea of fighting a monster in battle is insulting it to death. In Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments, Clary is always teasing Simon about his love life. Alec and Jace tell stories about their near death experiences with maniacal grins on their faces.
This what makes them approachable to the readers, someone who they can talk to, not just admire from afar.
We can look at ourselves and feel better, knowing that people with faults like ours, faults even bigger than ours, are conquering their fears and doing the impossible. Learning to distinguish between their strengths and their weaknesses. Teaching one another to live with their vulnerabilities, and eventually, love them. They break down and learn to pick themselves up, and each other, back again. Through all the tears and heartbreaks, they come out stronger.
It makes me believe that I can too.
Because despite whatever superpower they may have, they are, in the end, human. They are simply doing what seem like superhuman things. And if they can, so can I.